New study to provide insights into young Europeans' health-related diet and lifestyle choices

September 5, 2013
New study to provide insights into young Europeans' health-related diet and lifestyle choices
Credit: Shutterstock

Why do some children live on a diet of fast food while others eat healthily? What causes a teenager to choose a hamburger over a salad? Why do some choose to exercise whilst others do not? What are the health consequences of a poor diet, lack of physical activity and other risk factors? And is it possible to steer children and their families towards healthier lifestyle choices? Those questions and many more are investigated by far-reaching research into the dietary and lifestyle behaviour of young Europeans.

Around 22 million children in the European Union are considered overweight or obese, with the numbers growing by 400 000 every year. They face serious health and social risks, including cardiovascular disease, , orthopaedic problems, underachievement in school and low self-esteem, and stand a 60 per cent chance of becoming overweight or . Even many teenagers who are not overweight are also at risk of these disorders, because of unhealthy diets and low levels of physical activity.

In order to address these unhealthy the underlying factors causing young Europeans to eat poorly and exercise less must be understood. That is the goal of a five-year study currently being conducted by a pan-European consortium of universities and research institutes in the EU-funded project I.Family ('Determinants of eating behaviour in European children, adolescents and their parents').

Building on the results of the IDEFICS project, which studied about 16 000 pre-teen children, the I.Family study invites these children plus their siblings and parents to participate in a follow-up. The follow-up is focusing on teenagers and in particular '' - 11- and 12-year-olds who are at a crucial stage in their development.

This cohort of children and their families are being studied in eight centres across Europe - Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Sweden - in an effort to unravel the interplay between complex lifestyle, behavioural and genetic factors and their impact on dietary habits and health outcomes.

Through questionnaires, interviews on relationships and health, psychological tests and physical examinations, coupled with biological samples and measurements of physical activity, the researchers aim to compare children and their families who have developed or maintained a healthy diet and lifestyle with those whose diet and lifestyle has developed in an unfavourable direction.

Because the children being studied were already examined in the IDEFICS study, the researchers will be able to compile a profile over many years of the factors behind good or bad dietary choices.

They can determine, for example, if having two working parents leads to the consumption of more fast food, or whether concerns about safety on the streets in urban areas causes city-dwelling children to take less physical activity and live more sedentary lives.

By gathering information about children's current health, and drawing on the detailed information they already have about the subjects in their early years, the I.Family team will be able to investigate the pathways leading to different health outcomes such as obesity and metabolic disorders and their precursors in as they grow up.

Among similar socio-economic groups with contrasting behaviours, the project plans to measure factors such as brain activation, the expression of genes related to food choice, the biological and genetic basis for taste thresholds, the role of sleep and sedentary time, physical activity and the impact of their surrounding environment.

Armed with this knowledge, the researchers then hope to be able to guide new approaches to promote healthy eating and behaviour to support policy development at the European, national and local levels, enabling more families to make healthier choices.

The project is being managed by Professor Wolfgang Ahrens of the University of Bremen in Germany with funding of more than EUR 11.5 million, of which EUR 9 million came from the EU.

I.FAMILY involves a consortium of 17 partner institutions from 12 EU countries. The project ends in February 2017.

Explore further: Study suggests focus on lifestyle changes—not weight loss—is key to kids' health

More information: I.FAMILY www.ifamilystudy.eu/

Related Stories

Study suggests focus on lifestyle changes—not weight loss—is key to kids' health

August 22, 2013
A UCLA School of Nursing study has found that both healthy-weight and obese children who participated in an intensive lifestyle modification program significantly improved their metabolic and cardiovascular health despite ...

Children without siblings are significantly more likely to be overweight

September 17, 2012
Children who grow up without siblings have a more than 50 percent higher risk of being overweight or obese than children with siblings. This is the finding of a study of 12,700 children in eight European countries, including ...

The road to better health for adolescents

August 6, 2013
From anorexia and asthma to cataracts, diabetes and obesity, illnesses and conditions that develop in middle age very often originate in childhood and adolescence. Evidence suggests that if adolescents had healthier lifestyles, ...

Parenting and home environment influence children's exercise and eating habits

June 18, 2013
Kids whose moms encourage them to exercise and eat well, and model those healthy behaviors themselves, are more likely to be active and healthy eaters, according to researchers at Duke Medicine.

Better-educated parents feed children fewer fats and less sugar

March 27, 2013
The level of education of parents has an influence on the frequency with which their children eat foods linked to obesity. The children of parents with low and medium levels of education eat fewer vegetables and fruit and ...

Junk food may lead to mental health problems in children

August 20, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—New research suggests that mums with unhealthy diets during pregnancy are more likely to have children with behavioural problems. It has also shown that children with unhealthy diets have increased symptoms ...

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.